A few days ago, the 25th of May 2020, was the 43rd year anniversary of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. No one called it that at the time – too early in the game for anything but just plain Star Wars. Almost everyone remembers where he or she was when seeing that movie for the first time movie. It was such an important cultural cinematic event. They’ve said this about a lot of things, but in this case it was true – Star Wars changed everything.
Think about it. There had never been a movie with that sort of power before – a non-stop action space opera with battles between star ships of all shapes and sized, giant walkers, storm troopers and rebels, and humans and machines (particularly bots). This was a movie with a story and a grand setting that encompassed a universe and a sweeping vision of family histories. Just stop a minute and think back to your first impression when the movie opened with that receding scroll detailing a few lines about a war between the Empire and the rebels. And then . . . OMG, that huge starship sweeping in from the top of the screen, massive to begin with and yet still not entirely revealed – more appearing around it, the music swelling with that by-now unforgettable sound – as the Empire pursues the fleeing Princess Leia Organa as an insect might feel a hawk.
Why am I writing about this? Because my own history is closely tied to Star Wars in any number of ways. Here are a few:
To begin with, the movie premiered two months after The Sword of Shannara published with Random House (Del Rey Books was born a year or so later). It was a running joke of mine for many years that Star Wars was the second-most important event of 1977 – the first being Sword. There was a Star Wars book – A New Hope, but no one much talked about that. They talked about the movie instead. But Random House published the book adaptation, and Judy-Lynn del Rey was the editor. She and Lester were also my editors at the same time, and I learned some years later that they talked to George Lucas about their hopes for my book and the Del Reys talked to me about how she saw Star Wars as a game-changer.
Her connection was so strong with George that twenty years later he came back to Del Rey to publish the second trilogy to accompany the movies. At the time, no writer had been selected, but they exchanged some names and mine was on both lists. So I got the job of writing Star Wars: Phantom Menace. What were the odds, I have wondered more than once, that a connection established 20 years earlier between an editor and two very different craftsmen would lead to such an opportunity?
So I wrote the book and in the process got to spend a couple of days at Skywalker Ranch while the movie was being edited and spliced together. I got to talk to many of the people who worked on the film, sit in on a merchandising pitch, watch a number of cuts and spend almost two hours talking to George about his vision for the movie and mine for the book. It was such a great experience, and I have never gotten over how generous everyone was with me.
Writing the book was one of the best and easiest experiences I have ever had. I wrote it in about 90 days, and I was helped at every turn. George told me to call him whenever I had a question he might help me with. I knew better than to impinge on this offer, but at one point I decided I needed to know something more about the history of the Jedi and the Sith and Midichloians. It might be okay to just skip past explanations in a 2 hour movie, but in a 330 page book you have to provide some background.
So I set up a phone call and when he came on the line, I got right to the point and asked if he had anything at all he could tell me about the backstory of the Jedi and the Sith so I could put that in the book, since this was after all Book One of the series. Also, could he help me understand (I still don’t have the spelling right) midichlorians? I think those were the last words I spoke for nearly thirty minutes. He launched into a deeply thought-out, thorough explanation of both, rapid-fire and no holds barred. Luckily I had thought to have a pen and paper at hand, and I can tell you I was writing it all down as fast as I could. By the time we were done I was too exhausted to even think of asking anything else, but what I learned mostly made it into the book and made the story much stronger.
Now that was twenty-three years ago, so taken as a whole consider how impactful the entire Star Wars cultural take-over has been. Virtually everything that could possibly be used to expand the Star Wars name has been created. Every art form has incorporated it in one-way or another. Christmas? Fourth of July? Easter and Valentine’s Day – Star Wars is there, the familiar emblems everywhere.
So what’s my point here? I’ve probably covered most of this ground in other articles and interviews over the years and many of you have probably seen or heard it all before. But the point is, I am writing about a couple of important times in my life with a direct connection to a cultural phenomenon that will be alive long after I am gone. That’s something I want to celebrate. We all share in the Star Wars experience in one way or another. We all remember how it changed us, and we understand the ramifications. In a time filled with deep uncertainties and harsh truths about who and what we are, this is something we can and should share.
What would our world be like if Star Wars had never happened. I don’t want to think about it. What I do know is that Star Wars has made our lives more complete, and we are the richer for having lived to benefit from it.
May 25, 2020 in Cannon Beach, sheltering in place.